Delegations from 148 trading nations agree they have to work fast if they are going to conclude the Doha Development Round by the end of 2006.
Spokesman for the World Trade Organization, Keith Rockwell, says the negotiators understand their ministers cannot go to Hong Kong with a lot of trade issues still unresolved. He says they have learned from experience that everything cannot be settled during a four- or five-day summit, but that careful preparations have to be made well in advance.
"It is clear that we now have a road map in terms of the bench marks we need to hit," he said. "July, a first approximation. December at Hong Kong-agreeing modalities. Much better services package. Much more advanced negotiating text in areas of rules, etc. development. And, then, the idea will be to wrap it up at the end of next year. All members are on board for this. So that is very important. What has to happen now is there needs to be the sort of flexibility coming from all parties to make this thing happen."
The Doha Development Round aims to slash subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to world trade. It also purports to help poor nations use trade to make their lives better.
Mr. Rockwell notes that 80 percent of WTO's members are developing countries. That means the rich countries cannot have it all their own way. He says developed as well as developing countries are going to have to make concessions in order to strike a final deal.
He says negotiators still are arguing over a whole range of issues from agricultural subsidies to trade in industrial products to tariff reductions. He says the biggest sticking point is in services such as telecommunications and banking.
"We have got 45 governments who have yet to make even their initial offer and these negotiations have been under way since 2000," he said. "By the end of May, we are supposed to have revised offers in. And you cannot really expect a successful revision process when you have so many governments who have not even submitted their first offers. On the question of trade facilitation, we are moving really quite well. On agriculture, the problem will come down to market access, differentiating between developed and developing countries. Similar problems will be there for the industrial products."
Mr. Rockwell says technical meetings on the outstanding issues are going on all the time. And, a number of other specialized meetings will occur between now and July, the mid-way point to Hong Kong, to measure progress.
He says everyone will benefit from a successful round. What is particularly important, he adds, is that developing countries begin to reap greater benefits from the multilateral trading system than they have so far.